Today was all about learning the old adage "climb high, sleep low" with our planned trek for the day taking us as high as 15190ft to the Lava Tower before finishing for the night at a respectable 12959ft at the foot of the Barranco wall, which was to be our challenge for the following day. The night had certainly been a lot cooler than those previous and I awoke before 6 to find a light ground frost. My sleeping bag, however was continuing to do me proud and keep me toasty warm plus I had worked out that by covering it with the two jackets I had kept the condensation at bay.
Much of today was spent in the alpine desert of Kilimanjaro, yet again so vastly different to the ecosystems so far experienced. This was a rocky, barren, and dry expanse of the high desert area. When it didn't rain on us, although that always seemed very brief and usually starting as we we stopped for lunch. The view were amazing until the mists rolled in but even that presented its own kind of "special" making everything look kind of mystical. When it was clear, the summit loomed over us as we hiked, forever reminding us of what lay ahead.
The high point of the climb was reached just after we stopped for lunch. The Lava Tower, a 300 foot tall formation, jutted out of the mountain and thankfully the mists cleared long enough for some photos. The tower, once climable but now deemed unsafe, was created by cooling lava at some point in the mountain's past. After that, it was time to punish my quads and turn down hill towards Barranco Camp. I say this because make no mistake just because you're going down doesn't mean that the trek is easy. You scramble over rocks and hike through loose rock scree that had you watching your step at every waking moment. If your legs weren't on fire from the previous days climb and the exertion of the morning, the challenge of this descent will certainly make them so.
As we descended, the beautiful scenery changed once more and returned to the colourful moorlands. You can be forgiven for thinking you are surely hallucinating what looks like a palm tree on the hillside as the hike took us down the valley to Barranco Camp. There were also a number of beautiful waterfalls. It was definitely worth taking the time to catch your breath by looking around on this stage of the climb.
Barranco Camp was easily the most scenic on the Machame Route with amazing views of Mount Meru, Heim Glacier, and Kibo's south face. When the mist cleared at night (or when you got up for the impromptu pee break around 1am) you could also see all the way down the valley into Moshi. Before I lure you into some false sense of security however, it's not all fun and games that's for certain, I simply could not avoid eyeing up the Barranco Wall, a 1000+ foot rock face I'd be tackling first thing the following morning.
This, so far, was my favourite day on the trail and incredibly challenging to boot. You had to watch your footing constantly, as the scree was very loose in spots and if you weren't careful, you could easily trip & go arse over tit. But the views in the valley leading to Barranco Camp were stunning so it was worth the risk. I still felt good on the trail. My legs were feeling a bit of the strain, but generally still felt good. I remained hopeful that the acclimatization process was going according to plan. I hadn't suffered any headaches or nausea, although other groups we encountered certainly were. I remained optimistic in my quest to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro.